Category Archives: Nature

For the love of it


I received this piece by email which I share with you all. It is a very touching account, and as you know, I am passionate about these beautiful mammals.

The Whale…   If you read a recent front page story of the San Francisco Chronicle, you would have read about a female humpback whale who had become entangled in a spider web of crab traps and lines. She was weighted down by hundreds of pounds of traps that caused her to struggle to stay afloat. She also had hundreds of yards of line rope wrapped around her body, her tail, her torso, a line tugging in her mouth. A fisherman spotted her just east of the Farallon Islands (outside the Golden Gate ) and radioed an environmental group for help.

Within a few hours, the rescue team arrived and determined that she was so bad off, the only way to save her was to dive in and untangle her. They worked for hours with curved knives and eventually freed her.

When she was free, the divers say she swam in what seemed like joyous circles. She then came back to each and every diver, one at a time, and nudged them, pushed them gently around as she was thanking them. Some said it was the most incredibly beautiful experience of their lives. The guy who cut the rope out of her mouth said her eyes were following him the whole time, and he will never be the same.

May you, and all those you love, be so blessed and fortunate to be surrounded by people who will help you get untangled from the things that are binding you.   And, may you always know the joy of giving and receiving gratitude


In My Big Pond…

Through the fog of deep sleep I heard it; I woke momentarily all my senses on high alert, then the sound came again, this time familiar. It was the sound of a whale, close to the shore line in the cove below my home. During breeding season and mostly at night the Southern Right whale often bellows and moans loudly.

Sothern Right WhaleWaking early I grabbed a shawl, draped it around my shoulders and with bare feet walked to the edge of my deck to see if the whale was still there. She was and I could see and hear her clearly. This is the third year that some of the migrating females have used this little protected area to drop their babies

After they have calved the whales teach their young how to swim in these sheltered waters, slowly moving from one point of the bay to another. The new-born calves have almost no blubber to insulate them from the cold and they are quickly fattened on rich whale milk with its high fat content. This produces spectacular results in that whale calves may double their weight within a week. Calves learn skills they need to survive in one of our planet’s great wilderness areas, the Ocean; they stay close to their mothers, playing and suckling for about a year.

From May onwards Southern Right Whales pay homage to the waters off our coast in order to calf their young and to mate. The best time for whale watching in the Cape is

between August and November; at this time the various bays which they habituate is dotted with whales and more often than not, they’re more than happy to put on a performance. After the females have calved, the adults begin their courtship displays of breaching, tail splashing, jostling and caressing.

The Southern Right Whale although a slow, lumbering swimmer is also amazingly acrobatic. When it breaches, it sometimes does this several times in a row, and the splash can be heard long distances away. At times it will wave a flipper above the surface, flipper-slap, lob tail and head-stand. Sometimes raised flukes in the air are used as sails, allowing the wind to push it through the water. This appears to be a playful activity as these mammals have often been seen swimming back to do it again.

Southern Rights are skimmer-feeders. Their baleen plates measuring up to 2 metres long filter out plankton and krill as they cruise along the surface. The average swimming speed is approximately 6 kilometres an hour when cruising, although they have been known to reach 11 kilometres an hour in short bursts.

Conservation: Southern Right whales are protected internationally under the convention for the regulation of whaling and have not been actively hunted since 1935.

Southern right whales are regarded as an endangered species as their numbers have been considerably reduced in the last 200 years. Between 1790 and 1825 it is estimated that over 12 000 southern rights were killed by whalers of the South African coast. Now collisions with ships or entanglement in fishing gear are the main dangers. There are now about 4500 southern right whales, with about 1500 coming to southern Africa. Statistics show southern rights are increasing in number, doubling in size every ten years, which means that they should have returned to their optimum population size in about 2040.

In 1980 and again in 1984 legislation was introduced in South Africa to protect whales. It is now illegal to shoot at whales, or harass them by coming closer than 300 metres in any  boat or craft.


The Jewel of the pond

Mr Koi

Koi, known as the ‘living jewels of Japan’ and certainly the beautiful jewels of my pond are intelligent, protective and positive, as often witnessed from their behaviour. It is hard not to be seduced by their dazzling colours of oranges, reds, yellows, blacks, silvers, bronzes, even greens and blues.

I love their balletic movements and when swimming together as a bunch they are like a flaming, swirling, underwater wind. Equally appealing is their tameness, a report that has developed overtime. 

Watching them and raising them takes this section of my garden into a sort of Zen mysticism and a relationship that is mutually beneficial.  They can feel the vibrations from my feet as I walk to toward the pond and get themselves into an excited frenzy, twirling and dancing as they know I am approaching. It is also interesting to observe how they respond differently to the approach of others than they do to me. When feeding they come to the surface and like to be touched and hand fed. I love these intimate little moments.

Koi, descendants of the common carp found their way to various parts of the world from China in the 1800’s. In Japan koi have been cultivated as far back as the 17th century, when a few fish with colourful patches were discovered and bred together in an isolated north western coastal area of Japan. By the 19th century, breeding of decorative koi had become a thriving business. During the Tokyo Exhibition of 1914, the most beautiful specimens were presented to Crown Prince Hirohito as a gift, and koi quickly became a national treasure. 

Unfortunately koi appeal not only to people but to herons, cats and hawks, just a few among their threatening predators. I have however planted exotic plants and trees in and around the pond, which together with the cascading water, provides ample hiding space from predators.

While their jewel box colours may seem random and overwhelming, there are precise ways of identifying and naming koi. The elaborate Japanese names are based on colour, patterning, scalation, and lustre. For the novice enthusiast, the Tetra Encyclopaedia of koi breaks down the dizzying number of varieties into 14 major classifications.

The Dirtiest Scandal of All

by OrangeClouds115

Sat Apr 05, 2008 at 05:54:18 AM PDT

I just read a book that turned my understanding of the world on its head. I thought I was a good tree-hugger before. I thought I was an effective proponent of organics too. The truth is, I had NO idea what I was talking about in any sort of concrete way beyond a general idea that it’s bad to dump poison on the earth and kill living things.

Then bara told me to read a book called Teaming with Microbes: A Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web. For a solid week, I had my nose buried in this book and all I could talk about to anyone were bacteria, fungi, and nematodes. The contents of that book expose the DIRTIEST, FILTHIEST scandal of all in our society.

Why dirtiest? Well, for one thing, it’s all about dirt. Or – to use a better word – soil. But bad puns aside, we would have a VERY different and MUCH healthier environment if the knowledge in this one little book were widely known. You’d see no dead zone the size of New Jersey in the Gulf of Mexico, for example, and that’s just the start…

Senators and Congressmen, if you’re lurking, please read this. James Inhofe, I mean you too!

· OrangeClouds115’s diary :: ::

Let me give you a quick synopsis of what this book says that is so amazing and then translate it for you in terms of what it means for our environment and society as a whole (since it affects a whole lot more than just the environment in terms of the major categorizations of issues we all care about).

What Is Meant by Soil Food Web?
We say "soil food web" instead of "soil food chain" because it’s not as simple as one species eats the next who in turn gets eaten by the next and so on. Typically, bacteria and fungi are the bottom of the food web and they are eaten by protozoa and nematodes. Everything else kind of falls in line after that – earthworms, bugs (which can be categorized as "arthropods" in order to include spiders and such), and whatever else.

How Plans Control These Microorganisms
OK, here is the REALLY cool part. Plants (which we typically don’t think of as that active… you know, person in a coma = vegetable) totally control what goes on underground. They act like choreographers, controlling the microorganisms around them in order to get the nutrients they need and get protection from pests and diseases.

Plants secrete something called "exudates" (think of it like sweat) from their roots and leaves. The area around the roots, by the way, is called the rhizosphere. The bacteria and fungi flock to the rhizosphere and coat the roots in order to consume the plants’ exudates. These bacteria and fungi contain within their bodies the nutrients (particularly nitrogen but also calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and other nutrients too) the plants need to survive.

These little critters are all crowded in tightly around the roots in the rhizosphere, and bacteria tend to create a layer of slime around themselves too, making it altogether much more difficult for pest species to attack the plants.

Also hanging out in the rhizosphere are protozoa and nematodes that prey on the bacteria and fungi. They eat the bacteria and fungi and then poop out the nutrients the plants need, right smack next to the plant’s roots where the plant can use them. Isn’t that brilliant???

Even more brilliant is the way plants use fungi to get nutrients from far away. Plants obviously cannot move but fungi can extend very far in threads called hyphae. These hyphae extend far through the soil, finding nutrients like phosphorus and carrying them back to the rhizosphere to make them available to the plants.

Think about it – when you dump nutrients on plants directly (as fertilizer), some of those nutrients hit the plants’ roots and the rest just leaches down through the soil into the groundwater or wherever. The fertilizer’s high salt content kills the microorganisms in the soil food web too. You’ve got nothing left in the soil to feed the plant, so soon enough you need to add more fertilizer.

On the other hand, if you let nature take its course, the plant-choreographers will keep all of the nutrients they need right beside them in the rhizosphere in the bodies of bacteria and fungi, ready to feed them as the bacteria and fungi are eaten and excreted.

Sounds to me like the natural version would be our equivalent of having a cell phone and a web directory of delivery meal services whereas the so-called modern version would be like living in a refugee camp and relying on occasional shipments of aid to eat anything.

Another amazing adaption by plants? Plants differ in how they like to receive their nitrogen. Typically plants like grass and veggies prefer to get one form of nitrogen that is produced by bacteria in soil with a pH higher than 7 (and bacteria put out slime with a pH of 7, raising the overall pH of the soil). Trees typically prefer their nitrogen in a form produced by fungi that live in soil with a pH lower than 7.

Want to know what trees do to promote fungal growth around their root systems? Shed their leaves and create their own mulch!!! Different types of microorganism food (a.k.a. organic fertilizers… instead of thinking about dumping nutrients on the plants, think about feeding the microorganisms) favor either bacteria or fungi, and mulches tend to favor fungi. Trees prefer nitrogen from fungi and they are smart enough to fertilize themselves!

Plants In Charge, Part 2
It goes even further than that. Plants need a few other things besides nutrients and protection from pests. They need air and water. The microorganisms give them that too. When the bacteria produce slime or fungi grow into long hyphae or earthworms produce castings (the nicer word for worm poop), they make the tiny particles of sand, silt, and clay in the soil and make them stick together.

The clumps of particles have little crevices all over which leave room for air and adhere to little bits of water. Not much of each, but some. These little clumps give texture (or crumb structure) to the soil. It’s not a bunch of cement hard dirt or totally loose sand that blows away in the wind. In other words, it prevents erosion.

Some of the other critters on the soil – earthworms for example – tunnel through the soil aerating it even further. When it rains, the rain is able to pass through the soil (it won’t just run off or evaporate off the surface) and little bits of water adhere to each of the tiny crevices in the soil, eventually flowing deeper and deeper until it hits the groundwater.

Consider soil with a rich and healthy soil food web vs. dead, cement-like, compacted dirt. Imagine during the rainy season they get 10 rainstorms with an inch of rain each time. Each time the plants use 50% of the water (I’m making these numbers up – they won’t be realistic but the general theory is one I’ve read in a similar example in a book – Holistic Management by Allan Savory – so I’m pretty confident the overall concept is correct).

In the healthy soil, half an inch of water stays in the soil. In the dead dirt, it runs off and/or evaporates. Each time this repeats. At the end of the rainy season, the healthy soil has 5 inches of rain stored up and the dead dirt has none. The healthy soil can continue growing (providing other conditions are OK, like the temperature) even after the rains stop and it will have leftover moisture to start growing again earlier in the next year before the rains start. The dead soil can’t.

Also, the healthy soil can withstand both drought and heavy rains better. Because it holds water well, it has the capacity to hold a huge deluge of rain but it also stores water better to use it during periods of drought. Dead dirt does neither.

The Soil Food Web and Pests
The book makes it clear that no garden or farm will exist as pest-free. The bad guys live among the good guys no matter what. The good news is that the good guys EAT the bad guys. They also compete with them for resources and habitat. When there is a void of life (such as after you use a pesticide that kills everything indiscriminately), the bad guys can move in without anything stopping them. With your health soil food web in place, you’ve got the good guys in place to control the bad guys.

What This Means For Our Society
Does this just absolutely blow your mind? Think about how advanced all of this is. Those who reject "modern" industrial agriculture are not Luddites at all. Perhaps they never looked through a microscope but they are using extremely complex science to grow their crops far better than industrial methods ever could!!!

The real Luddites are the idiots (a.k.a. most of America) that uses the industrial chemicals. First of all, many agricultural chemicals are derived from petroleum, so GREAT JOB everybody – you found another reason to use foreign oil. Let’s keep fighting wars in the Middle East! They are also processed and shipped using some form of energy (probably not renewable or clean) too.

Second of all, they kill off the soil food web. They take the plants’ mechanisms for feeding and defending themselves away. They leave the plants starved for nutrients and defenseless against pests. They leave the soil totally dead and empty, with no competition for pests who want to move in. They also kill off the organisms that live on the microorganisms – for example, birds who eat worms and bugs who eat microorganisms are all denied their food.

Third, the fertilizer runs off into waterways or leaches into the ground water. So does the pesticide. There are many areas of the country where the drinking water contains atrazine (a pesticide used widely on corn). Much of the fertilizer makes its way into the Mississippi and then into the Gulf.

It feeds LOTS of algae, which in turn sucks the oxygen out of the water, creating a condition called hypoxia. The result? A dead zone in the gulf the size of New Jersey. If you can’t swim away, you die. And guess what – as this ridiculous ethanol craze fuels the demand for corn (a crop that farmers drown in excess fertilizer), the dead zone will get bigger.

Another implication? This industrial method (plus some of our more irresponsible and pro-Monsanto/DuPont/Exxon/ADM/Cargill/Tyson/etc laws) leads to larger, more consolidated farms. It happens for a few reasons. For one, one must purchase such expensive equipment to do this sort of farming that they must spread out their overhead over a whole lot of volume in order to come out ahead. Second, due to cycles of booms and busts in commodities markets, more and more farmers go broke and sell off their smaller parcels to larger farmers.

Why should you care? Because study after study shows that smaller family farms benefit communities much more than enormous industrial farms. They differ in size, organizational structure, and other facets, but the key difference is that small farms are typically owned, managed, and worked by one group of people whereas large farms are owned by one group, managed by another, and worked by a third.

The large, industrialized model creates a stratified society with a gap between rich and poor. In studies this leads to social disruptions (crime, divorce, teen pregnancy, high school drop outs) and lowers the tax base which erodes the local schools and community services. Yikes! So it matters to all of us what type of farms we have – not just the farmers!

The current system benefits the powers that be: biotech firms, chemical companies, big ag, processed food manufacturers and the retailers that sell their cheap crap, oil companies, and so forth. The last thing they want is for us to change our society in a way that benefits the earth and our quality of life at the expense of their bottom lines. You’ve got nothing on this, Eliot Spitzer!

We need to fight back!

What Do We Do About This?
Well, to start, inform yourselves! You’ve read this diary so you know the basics. If you find it interesting, go get the book I mentioned in the intro and learn more. The book gives specific gardening tips such as how to make a compost tea and when to apply it. Forward the information around. Loan your book to everyone you know or buy it for them as a gift.

Beyond that, here’s a simple list of action steps (just in time for Earth Day):

  1. Arm yourself with information and spread the word!
  1. If you have a lawn, stop using pesticides and fertilizers on it if you do. Take the tips in the book I recommended. If you don’t want to read the book, get your lawn aerated and brew up some actively aerated compost tea and apply it. Let leaves fall under trees and stay there. Leave grass clippings on the lawn.
  1. If you have a garden – first of all, good for you for growing your own food! Second of all, stop using pesticides and fertilizers if you use them. Then – same advice as before. Start reading and nourish your soil food web to put it to work for you.
  1. Garden. Even if it’s just herbs in a pot as a start. They are hard to kill if you add compost, put them in a sunny spot, water them frequently, and keep your cats out of the way.
  1. Compost!!! You can do this in a small apartment even with a worm bin or a small compost bin on a patio. I’ve done it like that before. If you can’t keep a compost bin yourself, see if a friend or local business will compost for you. I drop my food scraps and junk mail into the compost at Whole Foods.
  1. Go to and search for a nearby CSA (community supported agriculture) or farmers market. Buy as much food as possible from local, organic sources who do not patronize the huge corporations that are messing up our country!
  1. Buy organic when you can. It’s good to support farmers who don’t support Monsanto, etc.
  1. Skip on the processed foods as much as possible. More processing = more oil required from farm to fork. Yuck.
  1. Stop rototilling (if you do so). The book I just read said that the idea you need to rototill came from a boost in productivity when the compacted soil was first aerated but after that initial boost, rototilling does nothing good. It rips apart fungal hyphae and earthworms, thereby hurting your soil food web. It also exposes weed seeds to sunlight.
  1. Get active politically! I’ll do my best to keep people here informed but I recommend you also get your advice straight from the pros. An organization I’m a big fan of is the Community Food Security Coalition. I rely on their emails for my info because they are not too frequent and very easy to understand. It saves me from having to watch C-SPAN.

Another source for info is Marrael set the site up and Anais contributed some content too. I do my best to keep the site up to date (I’m particularly good about adding links but less good about writing new pages). It’s designed to be a Kossack’s guide to all food issues so everyone here knows what to ask for from their congresscritters. Everyone here is welcome to comment on the site to suggest additions and changes.

Some bills happen on a local level, and sometimes things won’t even happen in the form of bills. If you’re a parent, get involved at your kids’ school. See if they will start up a school garden and integrate it into the science curriculum. There are a few states with laws supporting school gardens too (CA and OR) and Washington just passed a bill promoting local food in WA schools. Very exciting!

Can you imagine the large scale societal change if we understood and respected the soil food web? We’d eat different foods altogether – less grain-fed meat and processed foods (the exact stuff that makes us fat) – and we’d live in a cleaner, healthier world. We’d have less need for oil and therefore less need for wars in the Middle East and less work to do to fix global warming. We’d have healthier communities in an economic and social sense too. All in all, life would be better.

If this is nothing but a win-win-win-win for everyone except for Monsanto and Exxon, then why don’t we get started today??? Yep – Monsanto, Exxon, and all the rest – and the politicians they control. But if we start by spreading the word about the role of the soil food web the way most people in America understand global warming, we’ll be a step ahead of where we are now.

Did you know this about The Heron


The blue heron is symbolic in many cultures. In Egypt the Heron is honoured as the creator of light. A double headed Heron in Egypt is symbolic of prosperity. In China the Heron is a symbol of strength, purity, and long life. In Africa, the Heron was thought to communicate with the Gods.

Most Native American tribes took note of the heron’s inquisitiveness, curiosity and determination. As such this set the heron as a symbol of wisdom in that this creature seemed to have good judgement skills.

Specifically, the Iroquois tribe held the blue heron as a very good omen, a very lucky sign. They recognised the heron as an expert fisher/hunter. As such, they believed that sighting a heron before a hunt was a sign that the hunt would be a good one.The heron is a beautiful creature, exhibiting grace, and noble stature. It’s no wonder the Native Indians and ancients honoured the heron throughout the centuries.

As a water creature the heron is also a symbol of going with the flow, and working with the elements of Mother nature rather than struggling against her.

Oldest DNA ever recorded shows warmer planet

While browsing through world news papers I find this article related to global warming  which I found interesting and thought some of you might too so here it is….. 

Washington – Scientists probed two kilometres through a Greenland glacier to recover the oldest plant DNA on record and discovered that the planet was warmer than believed during the last Ice Age, according to a study released on Thursday.
DNA of trees, plants and insects including butterflies and spiders from beneath the southern Greenland glacier was estimated to date to 450 000 to 900 000 years ago, the remnants of a boreal forest that existed before the Earth cooled.
That sharply altered the previous view that a boreal forest existed in Greenland only as recently as 2,4 million years ago, according to a summary of the study, which is published on Thursday in the journal Science.
The samples suggest the temperature probably reached 10°C in the summer and -17° C in the winter.
They also indicated that during the last period between ice ages, 116 000-130 000 years ago, when temperatures were on average 5°C higher than now, the glaciers on Greenland did not completely melt away.
"These findings allow us to make a more accurate environmental reconstruction of the time period from which these samples were taken," said Martin Sharp, a glaciologist at the University of Alberta, Canada, and a co-author of the paper.
"What we’ve learned is that this part of the world was significantly warmer than most people thought." – Sapa-AFP